Mother’s Guitar on the Builder’s Bench: Beginnings

Me around a year old with my mother and father

I usually walk with a song in my head, especially on long trails. Since music is an important part of my life, I’ll exercise a little personal privilege in this first of several posts that will follow the journey of one guitar.

When I was three years old, my mother took out a small life insurance policy. I can just picture my 28-year-old mom making those quarterly payments of $15.24 in an effort to protect her family’s future. She and my father never made huge salaries, but they saved and planned carefully. At their passing, we were not left with expenses because they had planned and avoided burdening their children. My sister and I were surprised to receive notification of this small life insurance payment resulting from mother’s long-ago paid-up policy.

Mother always encouraged my interest in music. As her health declined, I would sometimes sit in her bedroom and play my guitar quietly during the night while thinking about her life and commitment to our family. I decided to put the small amount of money from her policy toward purchasing a guitar as a keepsake to remind me of her life.

While listening to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s winter concert, my cousin, Sue, and I were impressed with the sound of one of Mary’s guitars. I found out that the builder was John Greven and emailed him to offer praise for his beautiful work. It was at this point that the thought of having a guitar built entered my mind. I was disappointed to learn that health and age had conspired to put a pause on John’s guitar building. He said it hurt for him to say he couldn’t build a guitar for me.

When I asked if there was another builder he might recommend, he had high praise for luthier Clayton Pledger, who had been his understudy years before. I visited Pledger’s website and listened to recordings there and at other locations before deciding to contact him.

Several large companies and shops build excellent guitars, but I determined that Pledger Guitars were excellent and competitively priced. Having a personal connection with the builder was important to me for this instrument. Clayton had just begun working on a cutaway OM-13 (Orchestra Model) with the qualities I wanted. Since an OM-13 connects the body with the neck at the 13th fret, I decided a cutaway would be best for reaching the upper range. My guitar teacher, Randy Soller, has been helping me learn to play up the neck as opposed to only using a few chords at the low end.

Clayton sent photos from his shop in Portland, Oregon. The Sitka Spruce top and Madagascar Rosewood back had just been cut. I loved seeing wood chips on the workbench surrounding the beginnings of this instrument that would become a reminder of my mother.

A few days later, scalloped Sitka Spruce bracing was in place and the top and back were firmly bound to the rosewood sides. I was pleased with the subtle ebony binding along the edges.

I look forward to Clayton Pledger’s next steps as this guitar takes shape. Below is part of a poem I wrote while thinking about how difficult it must be for John Greven to stop doing this work he loved for so many years. I’m thankful that he was a good teacher and that I’m getting to work with one of his excellent students.

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